Theodoros Rousopoulos, President of the Council of Europe. PACE PRESIDENT

Europe's top human rights body on Wednesday called for Russian and Belarusian athletes to be banned from the Paris Olympics. Council of Europe President Theodoros Rousopoulos said it would be an "insult to Ukrainian athletes" if competitors from the two nations were allowed to compete.

The 46-nation human rights watchdog, which has no links with the European Union, called for their exclusion last year. However, athletes from both countries have been allowed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to compete under a neutral flag. The IOC announced on Tuesday that they would not take part in the opening ceremony on 26 July. 

"Any victory by these athletes, even under a neutral flag, could be celebrated - and used - as a propaganda tool to create a narrative of acceptance and normalisation that downplays the gravity of the actions of the Russian and Belarusian governments," Roussopoulos said. 

"Why? Because their participation would be an insult to Ukrainian athletes, some of whom have died as a result of the war, and most of whom are unable to train properly due to the destruction of sports infrastructure," Roussopoulos explained.

"I regret that the International Olympic Committee has decided not to heed our call," said Theodoros Rousopoulos of Greece, president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. "This is currently the best way to help achieve the worthy goals of peace and equality that the Olympic Movement has embodied for millennia," said the PACE President. 

"The fundamental principles of Olympism are, by definition, opposed to war. So, I ask myself: Should athletes from a country that has invaded another country take part in the Olympic Games and proudly represent that country?." 

Russian and Belarusian athletes were allowed to take part in the Gamesby the IOC last year, but under strict conditions and will not be able to wear their national colours. However, they are expected to be few in number, according to the IOC, which estimates that a maximum of 55 Russians and 28 Belarusians could take part, far fewer than at the Tokyo 2020 Games (330 and 104 respectively).